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STUDIOS SPINNING STRONGER WEBS

Eagle-eyed Angelenos spotted something different about the Sept. 17 L.A. Times ad for Universal’s upcoming “Twelve Monkeys.”

Rather than the standard credits and log line, the full-page ad contained only the film’s bright red logo and the Internet address – known as a URL (Universal Resource Locator) for its home page on the World Wide Web.

The ad is a prominent indication of the Hollywood majors’ fascination with the Internet. But it’s not the only one: The movie ads in the Sept. 17 issue of the L.A. Times Calendar section referred readers to no fewer than 23 URLs for feature film-related Web sites.

Those sites, which heretofore have been merely promotional – the infopike’s equivalent of vanity plates – are on their way to playing a greater role in the process of selling tickets to fill seats.

Web environment

Studio-operated Web sites, which contain downloadable video and audio clips, bios of actors and directors and other info, are beginning to set up links to a home page called MovieLink, operated by Movie-Fone.

The MovieLink site gives users screening times at local theaters and the ability to purchase tickets online using credit card numbers.

In addition, MovieLink gives studios the opportunity to package promotional materials such as clips, reviews and interviews with the information about theater locations and screening times.

“All the sites for our theatrical releases are linked to MovieLink,” says John Hegeman, VP of marketing administration at MGM. “It’s a natural step in the progression of online services, from creating awareness and interest in a film, to finding out when and where the film is playing, to buying a ticket right then and there.”

Even with this innovation, however, online ticket sales aren’t likely to soar anytime soon.

“Our online business so far is a tiny fraction of what Movie-Fone is,” says Andrew Jarecki, chief executive of MovieFone, a service which enables consumers to make credit card ticket purchases via telephone.

The total number of online purchases since the service launched three months ago is in the thousands, he says, “but surely not in the hundreds of thousands.”

It’s too early to say if Internet users will be scared off by recent flaws discovered in encryption products made by Netscape, the company that supplies MovieLink with its transactional security systems.

But security issues aside, studios, Jarecki says, are realizing the benefits of providing one-click access to a service such as MovieLink: Sony set up a link for its film “The Net,” and has plans for others. Fox and Miramax are also planning to set up links.

Miramax, with its release slate that leans toward eclectic fare for a sophisticated audience, perhaps isn’t what comes to mind when most people consider natural Web site properties.

Easy targeting

For instance, New Line’s “Mortal Kombat,” aimed squarely at teenage and pre-teen boys who are avid computer users, has been the subject of a successful Web site, as has Fox’s sci-fi “Strange Days.”

But the demographics of online users are a little different than the stereotypes might suggest. Miramax, for one, is a studio savvy to that fact.

Says Mark Gill, Miramax marketing president, “The online marketplace is bifurcated: There’s the obvious demographic of young males who are into genre movies, then there’s the 18-45, educated, media-literate, relatively well-paid – or on the way to being well-paid – who are learning very fast about the Internet.”

That’s a demographic, says Jarecki, that Miramax would likely appeal to. “They’re well-suited to having a Web site because they have a strong brand identity, and they have something Web users will respond to.”

But even with access to MovieLink, it’s still difficult to determine the extent to which an online presence translates to ticket sales.

Market research firms such as NRG have only recently begun asking filmgoers whether they became interested in the picture through the Internet.

Miramax, which is launching its home page Nov. 1, conducts its own exit poll studies. The question of Internet-generated awareness, Gill says, “will be part of our exit polling data the minute we launch. But we don’t expect that the Web will be a major factor right away.”

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